A leading figure of the Beijing Olympics said the capital is doing more to ensure blue skies than it did for the historic event.
"We went all out to improve the environment and had 'truly exceptional Games' in 2008," said Ji Lin, who was head of venue construction for the Olympics.
"Now we are addressing air pollution on a larger scale and with more investment than was possible when we prepared for the Games."
In addition to capping coal consumption in Beijing, the city is seeking to get neighboring Tianjin, Hebei and Shanxi to rally behind the fight against pollution, Ji, chairman of the capital's top advisory body, the Beijing Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, told China Daily.
The conversion to gas of coal-burning boilers, each producing less than 20 metric tons of steam per hour, was completed in the capital last year, he said.
These boilers supplied heating for about 200,000 households, the Beijing News reported in January.
"By the end of next year, we'll have transformed the remaining 33 larger coal-burning boilers, which, together with last year's effort, means an additional use of 600 million cubic meters of natural gas and a reduction of coal by 900,000 tons a year," said Ji, a member of the National Committee of the CPPCC, the country's top advisory body.
The transformation will slash sulfur dioxide by 3,500 tons a year and nitrogen oxide by 2,250 tons, Ji said. Both are major pollutants tainting Beijing skies.
"We were not ready to do this before, or in, 2008, since we didn't have the resources - natural gas, for one thing, was not in ample supply," he said.
Experts have blamed Beijing's smog-inducing fine particles, known as PM2.5, on emissions from coal-burning power plants, heating stations and vehicle exhaust.
The capital experienced one of the longest stretches of smoggy days in years last month. And again last week, Beijing residents gazed into the sky only to see a blanket of suffocating smog.
"In tackling air pollution, it's fair to say that we've attached great importance to the issue, and we'll lay more emphasis on it; we've worked hard, and we'll work harder," Ji, a former vice-mayor, said.
The government is launching four mega-projects to set up periphery power generation and heating centers on the four sides of the city, he said.
These projects, fueled by natural gas, will be built by relocating or upgrading existing coal-burning plants and will be completed by 2015, he said.
"Money pooled to the projects may amount to several billion yuan each, and the cost of operation will be higher than using coal," he said.
In addition, the city will replace traditional coal-burning stoves with electric radiators for 44,000 families. The efforts will go some way toward making Beijing free of coal, he said.
"I can tell you the scale and multitude of investment in anti-pollution measures exceeds that for the Beijing Olympics," Ji said.
With the service industry contributing 76 percent to the local economy, Beijing is endowed with a solid foundation to pursue a healthier development model, according to Ji.
"Combating air pollution and protecting the environment will also contribute to GDP growth."
In recent years the city has used more electric buses and has promoted new-energy cars.
The city plans to phase out at least 180,000 outdated automobiles this year and encourages more government organizations and public transport service providers to use new-energy cars and buses, he said.
With hazy skies usually shrouding vast swathes of northern China and wind sweeping pollutants from place to place, Ji said it is important for the capital to work with its neighbors in tackling the issue.
The excellent air quality during the 2008 Olympics was partly brought about by neighboring cities working together with Beijing to curb pollution under a coordinating mechanism, he said.
"There should have been an authoritative department invested with the power of making trans-regional anti-pollution strategy," Ji said.
Beijing's Vice-Mayor Li Shixiang was quoted by the Beijing News as saying that on average a quarter of Beijing's PM2.5 pollutants came from its neighbors.
The proposed authority to coordinate anti-pollution measures in Beijing and neighboring areas could be designated by the State Council. For example, such an authority could be delegated to the National Development and Reform Commission, or the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Li said.
Zhang Qingwei, governor of Hebei, said his province is keen to cooperate with Beijing, Tianjin, Shanxi and the Inner Mongolia autonomous region to reduce air pollution.
"We've been very successful in controlling PM10 particles in the air; we are stepping up surveillance and control of PM2.5 particulates," the governor said.